ICELAND

Finally, at the base of a 40 foot drop was the wide, stone-filled glacier river that we had dreaded for three days. It looked as bad as we feared: Roaring, roiling water in three streams like the New Zealander said last night at the hut. We needed to find the best place to ford. On the far side putting on their boots were the English boys.

“Vere did you cross?” shouted Andi with his German accent.

“Here, where else?” they shouted back. We could barely hear them above the roar of the river.

“Vas it deep?”

“Knee high.Very swift.Damnedably cold! Especially the last part. Good luck!” And off they trotted.

All this enlightening talk about how and where to cross was interesting, but first we needed to get down to the river. We were standing at the top of a sheer wall of crumbling black silt. There was no established trail. Petr and Andi went down first, zig-zagging the sheer face, their heavy packs scraping the wall. Silvia followed, gingerly staying in their footsteps. She swayed one or twice, nearly losing her balance.

I prepared to start next. Barb took one look over the edge and said: “I can’t do that with my pack. No way.”

“Leave the pack,” I said. “Come down alone and I’ll come back up for your pack.”

“Can I throw it down?” she shouted to Andi who had made it to the river strand, maybe six feet of rocks before the swift water’s edge.

He shook his head. “Nay.”

“Henry, in what pocket did you stick the rope? I’ll lower the pack.”

“Barb, leave the pack. I’ll come back for it.” I started down the ashy slope, bracing every step with my pole. Barbara followed, sans pack, carefully measuring each footstep with her pole.

Andi started back up the path without his pack. I knew he planned to go up for Barbara’s pack. We squeezed past each other. “Andi, I’ll get her pack on a second trip.” He ignored me.

Once Barb and I were both down to the gravel edge of the river, he completed his sprint up the hill and retrieved Barb’s pack. I couldn’t argue. Underneath all my talk, I was bone tired. Certainly I could have done an extra trip up and down, and just as certainly, Andi did it more easily.

The trip across Pronga, with sandals and pants rolled up, everyone locked arm in arm, was more a party than a dangerous enterprise. In the water we screamed and cursed at the cold. Back on shore we laughed, cleaned our feet, packed our sandals away, and trudged off the final hour to Porsmark.